Nielsen: Complete Chamber Works For Winds / Ensemble Midtvest

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NIELSEN Wind Quintet. The Mother: The Mist is Rising; The Children are Playing; Faith and Hope are Playing. Serenata in vano. Fantasy Pieces, op. 2. Fantasy Piece for Clarinet and Piano. Canto serioso Ens Midtvest CPO 777872-2 (51:35)

This attractive disc collects the complete chamber music for winds by Carl Nielsen, as the notes say, “apart from a sixteen-bar recorder duet composed in 1931.” Comprising music from throughout Nielsen’s compositional career, this collection forms an interesting overview of his work, although naturally there is little of the titanic struggle found, say, in the Fourth and Fifth symphonies. The quintet, actually placed last on the program, forms over half its duration. A staple of the wind quintet repertoire, it is in three movements that follow Classical models: a sonata form first movement, complete with exposition repeat (taken here), a menuet with trio and da capo , and a theme and variations. The third movement is particularly interesting, forming a set of character variations on a hymn tune; Nielsen stated that in it he attempted to reflect the characters of both the instruments and the players of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet for whom the piece was written. As is well known, he was so pleased with their performance that he set about composing a concerto for each of them; unfortunately, only the flute and clarinet concertos were written before Nielsen died in 1931. An interesting sidelight: In the wind quintet with which I performed this piece, the bassoon’s final low A was produced by rolling up the clarinet part and placing it in the bassoon’s bell. Other quintets reportedly use the English horn bell for the same purpose.

Of the shorter works here, the most characteristic are the Serenata in vano (Futile Serenade), written in 1914 just before the Fourth Symphony, and the Canto serioso for Horn and Piano from the previous year. The former is a seven-minute, mostly tongue-in-cheek piece for clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello, and double bass; the latter is noteworthy for its use of the horn’s lower registers. The three excerpts from the incidental music Nielsen wrote to Helge Rode’s play The Mother all feature the flute, and represent his simpler, folk-like style. The fantasy pieces, two for oboe and piano and one for clarinet and piano, are early works; the second of the oboe pieces, Humoresque , displays Nielsen’s quirky humor, while the undated clarinet piece is worlds away from the late style of the quintet and the clarinet concerto.

The Ensemble Midtvest is a Danish group composed of a string quartet, a wind quintet, and piano; they have added a bass and a harp (in The Mist is Rising ) for this program. Their performance of the quintet is top-notch, with flawless intonation and ensemble; tempos are moderate to quick. The other items are uniformly outstanding as well. Sound is near-ideal. This is as attractive a presentation of this music as I know, although I also retain a fondness for the more laid-back Chamber Music Northwest recording of the quintet on Delos. Unhesitatingly recommended.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777872-2

  • UPC: 761203787227

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Carl Nielsen

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ensemble MidtVest